Do you find having a civil conversation somewhat more difficult these days? The high pressure, fast moving way that we live has seriously diminished our ability to discuss things on which we disagree without soon coming to sharp disagreement. We trust others less having seen many people profess one set of beliefs publicly while failing to allow those convictions to guide their own choices. And, then too, we sometimes are guilty of hanging onto ideas without the benefit of reason or careful reflection. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in our political conversation. The political culture in America is poisonous from the top down. Name-calling is rampant, cooperation nonexistent.
About twenty years ago I learned a real lesson about expressing sharp opinions. I made a point in a meeting about an issue on which I felt there was no gray only black and white! I was forceful, as I look back, even offensive. A thoughtful woman attending that meeting took exception to my words with an invitation to explore the issue in depth. She became a good friend and when I learned the circumstances of her life, I was mortified knowing that my words sliced at the emotional wounds that gave her such pain. Paul’s exhortation to “speak the truth in love” gained new importance for me. It’s not just what we say that matters. It’s how we are heard.
I still manage to get myself in trouble with my words from time to time. James points out that our speech is tough to bring to maturity! “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2, NIV) Jesus’ counsel is that we learn to talk less. “Let your ‘yes,’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” He said. Too often we go on and on and in our flood of speech, we offend others and sin against God.
The Scripture directs us with this: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6, NIV) Gracious words are considerate of others and contextualized in the circumstances. The gracious speaker does his best to know how he will be heard. That is much easier for me to write about than it is for me to practice, I candidly acknowledge! Then, too, the Lord tells us to practice salty speech. In our culture that little phrase is usually about words that are sprinkled liberally with profanity. Obviously, we are not called to curse. In Biblical times, salt was a very expensive item that was widely used to retard spoilage of food in the absence of refrigeration. In this passage, we are called to use words that add flavor and that control the rot that grows out of filthy, selfish, hateful words.
What’s the only way to learn to salty and gracious words? It is clear from Jesus’ teaching. May He change the fountain from which our words flow.
“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes.
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:43-45, NLT)
Change my heart, O God. Amen!